[Week 2 Reflection] How do you Facilitate Projects?


A long time ago, I started helping people learning in after-school projects. I offered them Lego bricks and Mindstorms, I suggested 2 or 3 themes to choose from, I let them experiment, discuss, test, share ideas with me and with peers.

The biggest challenge was finding money, and having people discuss their ideas with each other. There has been a great push to individualism: they want their own kit, bricks, project etc. It’s still hard to have them interact contructively with peers. Most of the time, one of the group tend to dominate others, until his/her idea is accepted. Any help?

My question about a project-based approach to learning is:
why on earth are still most of the schools organized around separated subjects, a rigid time-table, teach-to-the-test approach, grades, textbooks, old-fashioned classrooms etc? why are most of the governments so blind to keep this system going? Why do most of the people in the world still refuse projects as the norm in school and prefer tests instead of true learning?

Any help is appreciated.


In my role as DATS leader at my school (design, arts, technology, science) I’ve thought coding with Scratch is great but always leaned towards coding with robots. I find with robots my students are using block based coding (like Scratch) to programme then download and test with ‘real stuff’ (i.e. sensors and the physical world) rather than just staring at a computer screen. I encourage students to work in pairs to promote collaboration and communication alongside identifying problems, breaking them down into small parts | debugging and iteratively making improvements. However I’ve run a small lunch time group with year 8 students (11-12 year olds) who are Scratch experts - I’ve learnt lots from them! They have been transferring their Scratch knowledge to programming mBots with mblock (it’s based on Scratch). It’s a small group so they have had a robot each…the collaboration has been great - they pop over to each other’s computers to look code and offer feedback as well as test each others code on their robots! We have MaKey MaKeys at school too which we played with…I know they are compatible with Scratch so we’ll start exploring as I think this will help blend Scratch with the physical world.


Thanks for sharing I’ve always prefered programming robots to just Scratch because they connect coding to the physical world. We’ve MaKey MaKey at school and I’ve introduced the basics of using them to Year 2-4 (6-8 year olds) and I’ve been wanting to connect them to using Scratch as I know they are compatible - after playing today and reading you post I’m inspired to make it happen.


MankyRed’s statement is also true of Canada. However, as I think I might have mentioned before, our curriculum documents all use the phrase “by the end of the year”. This allows for a much more flexible approach to building a program. Unfortunately, most people go right to list of “expectations” pages. The real expectations are written about in the many pages ahead of these. It’s not necessarily about the nit-picky details, it’s about focussing on understanding.

One point that I would like to address is your “I’ve forgotten over half of everything I ever learned”. It’s a common phrase. What I feel most people are missing is that education is about the process of learning, or it should be. I don’t expect my students to remember everything after primary school. They don’t need to. But, what they have learned has built many pathways.

You do not remember all of the steps you went through to read fluently and for meaning; yet, you now know how to read and understand what you are reading. You may not remember anything taught to you in elementary math, but as an engineer you know how to solve problems and do complex calculations. The reason most people don’t remember half of what they have learned is due to the fact that they no longer need to remember it. The foundations had been built and they have moved on. It’s like studying Shakespeare; the bane of most students. You didn’t learn Romeo and Juliet, you learned how to dissect a text; how to write a paper; how to construct well-crafted writing; how to notate a paper; how to articulate ideas. and yes, how to endure and survive something that you might not have liked. Personally, I loved Shakespeare. I think his plays cover the entire gambit of teenage angst. Of course, his work was meant to seen not read.

A final point that I would like to make is not mine. I met a gentleman who regretted not taking the opportunity to learn when it was handed to him on a silver platter in high school. Looking back at it, he equated it to working out in the gym. Education is to exercise the brain. You don’t do it; the brain turns to fat. Think of all the exercise you were getting while learning Calculus and Advanced Functions. Most of us no longer use it, but I believe it has certainly contributed to our flexibility in thinking.


I love your diagram. Especially the leaping over the pit. I often tell my students and my parents that the student who often worries me the most is the student who makes no mistakes. Many times, they prove to have well developed memories and see things as black and white. Some are under challenged and some won’t extend themselves. One way or the other, I know that they are going to hit a wall some day and they won’t know what to do.

As Bell Work, one of the things I do is give some Level 1 and 2 Mensa number puzzles. I do provide clues when I see they cannot see how the numbers are connected. It’s interesting to see how often my “no mistakes” students will struggle with them, even with the clues. Yet, many of my other students can do better because they’re use to having to try different ways and they don’t get frustrated with not getting it right away. Another interesting observation, my “no mistakes” students tend to want to work on their own instead of in a team. Interesting.

Would you mind if I saved your diagram?


Yes, I facilitate students at CIY (Code It Yourself) Club and Scope IT Education. I like to see their smiles in visually seeing their ideas in Scratch. The biggest challenge I face is students get excited with the sprites and backdrop. They keep adding and drawing sprites without script. I then tell them that I like the sprites they have chosen because their ideas are well organized with a theme. I tell them that I can’t wait to see the script so that I can see the sprite’s role. They get excited and some of then add more than 1 Event so that they can maximize the sprites’ role. My question on project-based approach to learning is how can I make sure that there isn’t high differences between the clever and weaker students.


I facilitate projects listening to the others needs without judging and trying to narrow it to an achievable solution based on the student/person skills. So, it’s about listening, paraphrase it, listen again, make questions, share ideas or tools that could help with the project, and keep this process until “the end”.


Ive works in an after school center before so have created a few projects before. Biggest challenge for me were pushing youth to do bigger projects instead quick ones. How I got through this was putting alot of effort into building a solid relationship with the youth. For me this is huge as without this type of relationship, it wont allow for us to be asking hard questions for the youth to push them a bit more to what they are use to.


I have the students work independently first to create a simple activity with software, robots or models. Not all students have the same motivation or skills with materials so it is important that all future group members have a same shared experience. . This first step helps students share responsibilities a little better when they are on a team.


Hi MsTilkov

It’s not my diagram, just an example that I found on the web to help with my description. One of the activities that out school suggests in the first weeks of school each year is for students to draw their own learning pit with their own self-talk examples. Unfortunately I didn’t have any on hand.


Currently, my greatest struggle when facilitating projects with students is moving them towards self selection. The students I teach have, over the last couple of years that I’va been teaching in the lab, gotten more comfortable with open-ended projects with multiple possible outcomes. So far, very few are comfortable with having to select their own topic of interest. The vast majority of my students are still stuck on the idea that there is a “right” answer or a “right” project to choose. They love working on projects, but most of them are not yet to the point where they are ready to set themselves a project just for the love of the topic. And that is where I am trying to get them.


I have been facilitating Interactive Media based projects for the past 13 years and find the process both challenging and rewarding. We always start off with the question, “What do you need to know” and then move on from there. Making people think about what they need to know before moving on gives a structure to think about what the learner needs to know to get started and lets me know the background of the learners. From there we can go on the journey together by knowing when to give information, when to ask the right question that allows the learner as a light-handed guide, and when to hold a mini-lecture or mini-workshop to get them on track. There is an art to this and most of my time is spent trying to learn from others the best new techniques to use in my class.


I coach PBL teachers on this all of the time and it is always a struggle to overcome when the teachers come from a more traditional background. I find that my teachers that come from an industry and have no formal education training take to this way of teaching a little quicker because this is how the job market works…you have to figure it out by yourself most of the time. However, traditional teachers can begin to let go when they see the results for themselves, are offered support along the way, and understand that in the long run, this is a better learning environment for the student. With today’s focus on data and accountability, this can be challenging for teachers, however starting small may be the way to go. As a wise man once said in a movie I love, “Baby Steps”


I agree with you Janelle, particularly with the younger students, thinking of the initial idea is a big obstacle for them, even when writing a story for example, the biggest hurdle can often be what to write about. I think it’s important for students to be able to facilitate their own ideas and understand their own interests and abilities in order to really be able to ask those bigger questions.


ScratchMaths is rather good.ScratchMaths Not quite exploration in the sense of suggested project work, but for teachers how need a more scaffolded approach this may be a good starting point


Maybe show children example projects to inspire them, so they know what is doable.
Perhaps get them to look at example code and predict what it will do.
Maybe run through the imitate, innovate, invent cycle used in teaching English in UK. Or use, modify, create. So that they are inspired by high quality exemplars (like we do in teaching writing). Storyboards might be useful for helping record ideas or a class created storyboard (same as in writing) might get them going, so they can tick this off as they implement it. Then they can change and adapt the class version as they start to build up their knowledge?
Maybe use guided exploration, give them a small number of commands to explore, that you know will implement the feature they would like to include. So it is not copy code.
This is a combination of direct teaching, teaching the process and guided exploration, rather than pure exploration though.


There are some studies that talk about the tension between open ended discovery and more carefully constructed teacher led progression of experiences.
Which might be through example projects shown, unplugged activities, cross curricular links - but this strays from the idea that children are self directed. As they are self directed within the ideas put forwards.
(e.g. start with a simple single sprite animation (to learn about sequence), then animations with multiple sprites (for concurrancy), then move shape activities (to say learn about repetition), then onto say quizzes (to learn about selection and simple variables), finally games (which often require combinations)).

Some studies suggest that pure discovery might lead to extremely fine grained programming or even ‘smelly code’ and question impact of minimally guided learning on underlying understanding of concepts and progression. BUT more research is needed to compare open ended to blended (such as code reading, guided exploration, debugging tasks, live coding, apprenticeship, including design, learning about the process of making etc)
Intructionist approaches may not be meaningful to the learner and may not be motivational. And highly directed teaching such as copy code - may lead to learned helplessness etc etc.

Clearly there is a tension here, which is difficult to navigate.

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Thanks for the advice. I’ll check out ScratchMaths.


I have helped students create various projects. One of my favorite projects I’ve helped create was our third graders creating replicas of buildings known around our town. The students had to research their town building and become familiar with it and then build replicas to look like it. It was very interesting because the buildings were familiar to me as well. The biggest challenges were getting the kids to think outside the box of what materials to use just besides cardboard and paper. The options were endless, but some students struggled to see beyond basic building materials. Project based learning is a great way to get students to be creators and doers.


One of the courses I teach is a 6 week (~28 days) Computing to Learn course in which grade 6 students participate in projects in the areas of programming (Turtle Art), fabrication (3D printed cookie cutters, we used Scratch to design the shapes), and physical computing (MaKey MaKey).

Cookie Cutter Design Project -

I start the students out by looking at sample projects (some good, some bad). I also try to have an example that I have made, proving that a) it can be done and b) that I have done it. This also allows me to use some techniques (cardboard construction ideas, code scripts, etc.) that I would like the students to think with.

As their ideas get started, I am sure to move about meeting with each of them to learn more about their ideas and tease out options with them. I’ve found it important to leave them with an action. One of the more important aspects of projects is sharing, not at the completion of a project, but before and during the process. When a student has an idea that might benefit even a few other students, I make an effort to provide them the opportunity to share or I will share their idea.

I am really still developing the more formal aspects of projects (i.e. - planning, documentation, etc.) so I’m curious to learn what others are currently doing in this area.